Four weeks in -- 2015 NFL season -- AFC North


Cincinnati (4-0)

Talented. Scary. Capable of beating any team in the NFL… and yes, I mean that.

Also one of the most horrific teams for delivering under pressure games that we’ve seen in quite some time. The past few years they just don’t seem to do well in those games that separate making the playoffs teams from Super Bowl candidate teams.

No… first and foremost… they deserve a huge amount of credit. They are in what can be viewed as a brutal division. Pittsburgh and Baltimore are tough teams to play… and Cincinnati faces them twice each season. Cleveland manages to toss in some very competitive games each year, especially against divisional opponents. That’s six tough games every year before you get to the ten outside the AFC North. And what have they done?

Five of the past six years… playoffs.

Just the past four -- 2014… 11 wins, wild card. 2013… 11 wins, division title. 2012… 10 wins, wild card. 2011… 9 wins, wild card. That’s comparable or better than any other team in their division during the regular season.

But again… there comes a point when regular season success needs to be finished upon with playoff success. And when faced with big game moments, the Bengals don’t seem to deliver in the playoffs… or even in memorable regular season games outside the division. Here’s what I mean.

Last year New England got pasted by Kansas City, and had Cincinnati coming up next. The Bengals were coming off their bye week, and entered the game with a 3-0 record. Two weeks to prepare and the Pats looking awful. Result? The Patriots didn’t beat the Bengals… they didn’t destroy the Bengals… they humiliated the Bengals.

Cincinnati reacted to that loss by following it with a tie against Carolina, two close wins, and disasters in losing to Indianapolis and Cleveland. In short, they looked dazed. (Not the first team to struggle to recover from a New England throttling. Check out my thoughts on Seattle this season. Still… good example of the Bengals with a chance to step up.)

The Bengals will be fine during the season… look good right now to take the division crown, and I think they have a very real chance to be one of the top two AFC seeds. Watch the games against Seattle, Denver, and Arizona for general takes on how they’re doing (AFC North games can be notoriously difficult to predict)… but until the playoffs, there is just no way to know.

Pittsburgh (2-2)

The Steelers team that is 2-2 right now is going to be much different than the one we see in December and January. In fact, I think the Steelers are the most likely team in the AFC to select if there is a team to beat the Patriots in the playoffs.

The defense should improve tremendously as the year goes on. And the offense should improve once it gets all of the major players onto the field and healthy.

For now though… 2-2 is fine, but impossible to review.

Baltimore (1-3)

Something’s wrong, and I’m not sure what.

Health is huge. The team on the field each week is not the team… not even 75% of the team… we expected to see if asked early in the summer. Roster turnover is definitely part of it.

But I can’t help but feeling there is a bit of a Patriots hangover present here as well. They lost a rough game against New England last year in the playoffs. The offseason featured all sorts of shots being directed their way, and they spent time returning fire. They’ve also played a ton of postseason games in recent years. It all takes a toll.

I’m not high on the Ravens. Not 100% sure why. But I just don’t see them challenging the Bengals and Steelers, and the schedule features tough games from the AFC and NFC West divisions. I don’t think we’ll see much of them in January.

Cleveland (1-3)

In general, I’d like to make a joke about some of the movies coming out in November and December. You know, something that says Cleveland fans should be preparing for the return of Leia, Luke and Han.

And honestly… it isn’t going to be a pretty season. The Browns aren’t good enough to challenge for the playoffs, and they still have way too much to do to their roster for the future.

And yet… they always seem to be a thorn for divisional opponents, and there are plenty of circus-like things taking place to watch. For example… Johnny Manziel… competent quarterback that deserves a shot to start over several weeks without looking over his shoulder, or, future reality television cast member that should really get started on this new career as soon as possible? Watch the show!

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